(3/9/04 4:34 am)
The Daleks Masterplan 1:
I'd always been wary of the Dalek Masterplan. I'd always felt its reputation as a classic was based on false reasons (you know what I mean - the Daemons cos it's the casts favourite, the Gunfighters is a turkey cos it had low viewing figures, etc.) In this case, I suspected its reputation was derived from it being long - much as in the same way Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is the most popular of the first four HP boos, because it's long, and despite it having a really rubbish plot. If the story was twelve episodes long it was good, that was the logic. To my mind it sounded like a meaningless ramble, the Chase times two.
Now, finally hearing it a couple of years back I seem to remember enjoying it. That's not to say it might not be a little over-rated, or that its reputation was incorrect (As with all missing stories it is hard to define how good it actually is, and a lot of the reputation rests on the memories of those who saw it. As we saw with Tomb of the Cybermen, they can get lucky if its recovered. Tomb is still undeniably terrific, just not for the reasons we tended to think before it was recovered). Just that it did seem to be fun.
Looking at episode one - to be honest, it does rather seem to be a rerun of Mission to the Unknown, just with the Doctor in it. We have a couple of SSS agents, one butch, the other nervy (and soon dead). We have the delayed initial appearance of the Daleks. We have a new delegate arriving at the Dalek city. And to be honest, the TARDIS crew don't make much difference, with only the Doctor having any active role in the episode.
There is some rather ham-fisted and obvious exposition here. Everyone seems to be asking questions they know the answers too, or giving over-elaborate replies ('Is that the patrol looking for Marc Cory.' 'Yes, the space pilot who vanished near Kembel.' I mean, come on, why does she ask the question if she doesn't know who she is?).
Katarina fairly quickly proves why she was an unworkable companion figure. Companions from the past are all well and good, but if you go so far back in time that virtually nothing is within their field of experience and they need to have practically everything explained (even Jamie would know what a 'key' was), then it could becoming wearying very quickly. She seems sweet enough though.
Nice to see that Bret is initially played as dislikeable. We know he's one of the goodies, and it's nice that they show that people don't always have to be sweetness and light to be on the right side.
One interesting detail is the coyness about mentioning the Daleks til they actually appear. Noticeably, Mission to the Unknown didn't wait til they made an appearance before mentioning them (the only story so far that's done that - normally they're unidentified until they first glide onto screen... probably only to reassure bemused viewers that this still was the same show). Here of course is the first example of the 'Have the Daleks in the title, but present it as a complete surprise when they turn up' syndrome. Obviously, they're not in the title, but anyone who's been paying attention will know where we are (the reminders about the Vaaga plants should be a clue) and yet the script still pretends we don't know. And you begin to see why it works, and why later stories still use that convention. There's something a bit weak about Missions revealing of its hand straight off. They need a dramatic now entrance, it gives them weight. The strength and danger of these creatures is underlined by the fear and shock of those who discover them.
And that's also what's promising about this episode, in a way that the Chase wasn't. The fear, the threat the Daleks pose is treated with the utmost respect. The SSS officers are afraid, they treat it as something to be terrified of, and as a result it is. Contrast this to the 'couldn't care less' attitude of the Chase. When the Dalek appears and guns down Gantry (without, wonderfully, feeling the cliched need to say a word before firing), there's real menace and dread, and it is, yes, scary.
An interesting start then. Perhaps a little padded, and some of the dialogue isn't worth all that much, but there's an air of high stakes about the story that bodes well.
(3/9/04 9:59 am)
Anyway, back to the usual...
The Daleks Masterplan 2:
Bloody typical. No discoveries for years and then two in three months, none of which are in time for me to use them! Marco Polo telesnaps (I cannot wait - the five available on the web look fab, frankly), and a new episode.
This did rather put me in a quandry. With telesnaps of this episode now available on the BBC Website, it would have been easy for me to flick through them at the same time as listening to the soundtrack, and get a good idea of how the episode looks.
Ultimately, I decided not to do this. Call me terribly old fashioned, but I think it would be too good an idea of what the episode is like - then, when it eventually gets released on DVD, or however, I'm sure I'd find it considerably less exciting. I want to come across this epsiode new, really.
So how does it stand as a audio-only piece then?
Well, the story begins to get going in this episode. It is quite surprising when I think back precisely how little has actually occured, however. The central event of the episode - the Doctor stealing the Time Destructor - occurs in the last minute or so, most of the rest of the episode marking time til that point. The general rowing of the Doctor/Bret and Chen and Zephon is a slight bit of padding. Katarina remains sidelined, adding the occasional line here and there, and Steven in contrast seems fully recovered by the end. The flamethrowing Daleks may be cool, but they're a quick threat that isn't really fetured heavily or given much credence at all (it seems to be forgotten straight away - maybe this helps when we're talking the actual pictures).
Am I the only one who thinks the concept of the Daleks organising meetings is a bit odd? What are the waiting for as well when they delay the start of the final meeting? And if Chen is the last to agree to the scheme, what were they going to do without the taranium (if its so vital and it can only be found in the solar system, they got a bit lucky... must have been very careful approaches they made to him - imagine if they'd turned him down, the entire plan screwed).
The whole thing is slightly becoming the simplistic adventure series of Galaxy 4. The SSS are a slightly lazy device to drive the plot, and a bit too Star Trek federation for comfort. Vyon is engagingly grumpy and unheroic, which helps. The Doctor's very proactive here, dressing up to overhear the plans. His determination to warn Earth even at the cost of being abandoned is more selfless than usual too - ok, he's not a coward, and will always fight evil he meets, but its usually more a case of getting caught up in other people's battles and struggling to stay alive. This seems the first time he decides to get involved when he doesn't actively need to. He doesn't get caught up, he dives in. It seems strangely out of character, painting him as a rather straight hero in a way I've always prefered him not to be (his general anti-heroic, everyman quality is what appeals to me), it has to be said, and it's because it's the series in simplistic terms, Terry Nation forgetting to turn on his 'sophistication' switch. It ain't as bad as Galaxy 4, because it's pacey, with interesting characters (Chen and Vyon both come over very well, the former contrasting well with the latter by being rather refined and elegant for a baddie - the hero and villain essentially swapping the cliched personality traits), solid monsters and a sense of scale (ok, the strange usage of solar system vs galaxy seems a bit hit and miss, but it remains clear that this is a plan of some scope). But it nonetheless has a fairly simplistic good vs evil soul at heart. It's good, don't get me wrong, but on a fairly visceral level, rather than an intellectual level. Not neccessarily a bad thing, of course.
The Doctor has essentially progressed from roughly the same point a season ago, where he said 'We must pit our wits against them and defeat them', to actively seeking out trouble and by stealing the time destructor, actively putting himself in the centre of it in a way that the series rarely did - he could quite easily take off in the Spar and alert the authorities - then sit out the rest... however he decides to make himself the focus.
Slightly out of place in the series, then, clearly a fun one for the kiddies. It's not entirely clear if this can sustain another 10 episodes, but it's mindlessly entertaining enough that I don't really mind... yet.
And cannot wait to see it - enough in there could look very impressive. It's a bit obvious, but it's fun.
(3/11/04 4:49 am)
Re: Day by Day
The Dalek Masterplan 3:
One slight sadness I have listening to this episode is the realisation that Mission to the Unknown is utterly meaningless.
If it wasn't there, the story would continue on exactly the same as before (unless there is some remaining twist with the cassette, but as far as I recall I don't think there is). Vyon would have to use the same excuse to land on the planet as Cory did, rather than a search for him, but that would be a change in the script that lasts about a second. The cassette itself is practically useless, failing to offer the Spar crew any new information about the Masterplan (wouldn't it have been better if the Doctor had played it, learned about the tarranium, or something similar?) And why couldn't Virgin have used the SSS as their space police force rather than the Adjudicators (which has always struck me as a complete misinterpretation of Colony in Space's character, frankly).
It is beginning to strike me that this story is a kind of bastard love child of DIOE and the Chase. We have the simplistic morality and rather episodic plotless feel of the latter, but the seriousness and epic quality of the former. The main difference between this and the Chase is that there's a sense of threat and danger and import. As I've said constantly, the TARDIS crew in the Chase don't care, and seeing as they're the only people there's any threat to in that story, that makes it hard for us to care too. Here we clearly see that the main threat is important.
The other detail is that there is a distinct goal. The Chase had no obvious place it was heading and as a result felt like a lot of filling in of time, for the most part. DMP has a clearly defined direction and purpose in the time destructor, and the journey to Earth - and this is where it begins to resemble DIOE. The rambling diversions go some way towards making it feel like a difficult and strenuous journey, filled with obstacles, a proper quest if you like. This is so much more interesting than the alternative - that they just pop straight back to Earth. Where's the drama in that - the journey must be hard, it adds to the tension (seeing as I'm outed as a classics fan, it's worth comparing to the Odyssey, and the Argonautica - the various stopovers don't really change the direction of the story all that often, or even have much to do with the main plot, they're episodic as hell. However, they do reinforce the feeling that what is being done is difficult and tough - who really wants to see and adventure where everything comes easily?). Again, none of the stopovers in the Chase really seemed to be that dangerous or interesting. We're only on Desperus for ten minutes or so, but it is presented correctly - there is desperation and fear there in the performances.
Sure the story hasn't really progressed much by the end of the episode (the Daleks are still after the Doctor, the SPAR is taking off another planet), but it doesn't really seem to matter. This is Who wanting to be epic. Rather self-consciously epic, true, and without a plot to justify it - but for the most part, epics rarely do. And of course, the cliffhanger suggests a slight change of direction (I rather like the way that the convict who turns out to be the most important is the one given the least weight in the rest of the episode - it's far too obvious for the leader to be the one who stows away, so this is more of a surprise).
None of the regulars really seem to do much this episode. The Doctor hangs around on the fringes, Steven seems barely to say a word, and Katarina does even less. She is quite sweet and likeable in her innocence though. This is all really a function of the slightness of this episode's plot, but it would seem Nation is a little more interested in his own characters, Vyon and Chen. (Courtney is, it has to be said, bloody good as Vyon, tough and cold and miles away from the Brigadier. I bet even when we see him in a full length episode rather than just the clips or soundtrack we'll forget its the Brig instantly).
Incidentally, Chen has been secretly mining the Taranium for 50 years? Why? Has he been in contact with the Daleks all this time? If so, why is he the 'newest' convert to their team? I could just about accept this in the last episode, where we could assume he'd just nicked 50 years worth of regularly mined Uranus ore, but this really beggars belief. Have the Daleks been planning this for 50 years? I doubt it. The only explanation is that Chen's been mining for it on the offchance that someone might want to use it for some nefarious scheme and he gets lucky.
(3/12/04 6:27 am)
Re: Day by Day
The Dalek Masterplan 4:
One thing bothers me very much about this episode. Daxtar. Why the hell is he in on the conspiracy? Who is he anyway?
Surely the whole basis of any conspiracy is to only inform the people who really need to know. The fewer links there are, the fewer can be broken. Daxtar's traitorousness is a twist for the sake of it really, it doesn't make any logical sense whatsoever. I am reminded of a very bad Arnie film I saw once called Eraser, where there is a twist villain, his boss played by James Caan. All well and good, you may think. But it's again a conspiracy, this time involving arms dealings. The evil villains have decided that the most important person they can get on their side is - wait for it - the head of the witness relocation programme. What? It's almost as if they know that in the future there might be an attempt to relocate someone they want out of the picture and approach him on the offchance. I mean, get real. Here, why is Daxtar involved?
Another oddity about this episode is that I'm slowly realising it isn't really about the Daleks yet. Sure, they're a strong prescence in parts one and two, but as of three, they begin to drift off. They send a pursuit ship after the Spar that never manages to get anywhere (and gets blown up rather pointlessly). All they seem to be doing in these last couple of episodes is sending people off to do their dirty work and getting cross when it ain't done properly. (We're the supreme power! We'll just sit here and keep reminding you whilst some white bloke made up to look Oriental and an old duffer run rings round us!). Now I know their masterplan is all about subterfuge, but I actually want them to do something, rather than just getting cross with another one of their allies every week. There's a desperate attempt to keep them menacing whilst the story proper isn't using them as a driving force.
Apart from that - well, again the story proper hasn't really progressed far by the end of the episode, but that's not what's really interesting here. What is most obviously interesting about this episode are the deaths of Katarina and Bret.
Katarina's fate is quite surprising and nasty - she seems a sweet innocent little girl so the fact that she gets killed off is quite a shock, and shows the dark tone this story is developing. It might be slightly cowardly that the production team do this to a character we haven't exactly grown hugely fond of (she's nice, but imagine how devestating it would have been if it was Vicki), but that doesn't dilute its impact. This looked like it was going to be the new companion, so it's a big surprise and a major shifting of the bases in terms of what can/can't be done in the series. In deed, a lot of the shock relies on our expectations, and the fact that we're really not expecting it so soon - reminding me of a similar 'trick' in a more modern show. Attention Spooks fans - we got there first! Her epitaph scene is rather nicely done. They get over it quite quickly, it has to be said, but then they didn't know her too well. There's a definite sadness nonetheless, with the sense of loss definitely present.
Bret's death is likewise a bit shocking. He's such a central figure in the script so far (even announcing himself as being in charge to Kirksen), so his death in the same episode as Katarina really ups the stakes. I can't really recall that many incidents of goodies dying well before the end of the story, and so unnecessarily (to clarify, I don't mean that in a bad way - again this is why it's shocking. Bret's death is meaningless in a way that, say, Dortmun's isn't, because it is callous and brutal and completely out of left field). Obviously this all about upping the dramatic stakes. (I know I keep waffling on about 'weight' and 'cost', but this is a prime example).
So what if it isn't really heading anywhere, there's an admirably grim seriousness to the whole thing. You do get the sense that this is all about something, that it's important and galaxy spanning on a scale far removed from what we've seen before (I don't think I recall the Doctor ever being this far from his TARDIS before). The scale impresses, and it's enjoyable fun so far.
(3/12/04 6:41 am)
Re: Day by Day
I've always felt Katarina's death along with those of the other pseudo-companions in this tale were the kind of thing Billy was referring to when he said he left the sries because he felt it was getting "too much evil in it" for a children's show.
I'm looking forward to reaching the Masterplan, because it and The Smugglers are the only Hartnells I've not seen/heard. I'd always felt it sounded rather poxy from old DWM archives etc and the two eps on the Early Years never really gripped me that much.
It'll be interesting to actually get to know the thing.
(3/12/04 7:30 am)
Re: Day by Day
I think that sounds like a good point. There really isn't any vast need in the scheme of the plot to kill off either Katarina or Bret - it's purely about being dark and nasty. There's something rather sadistic about killing off a young naive girl (her sacrifice mainly being definedI can't imagine Hartnell getting that worked up about the Ark, though maybe the Massacre might have a hand in it too.
And, yep, always thought Masterplan sounded pretty poxy from what I'd read too. I enjoy it a hell of a lot more than I'd thought, even if it is a rambling aimless meander. It's played so straight that you don't really mind.
And heck, I finally get to watch an episode of it tomorrow!
(3/13/04 1:40 am)
Re: Day by Day
I'd imagine that Bret's death is a consequence of Katarina's. They are both recycled into a female Bret and Cathy Gale rip-off - Sara!
Considering the time they had to make these shows its not surprising they had to make it up as they went along!
Thank heavens for Dougie Camfield who really holds the thing together - I think the Masterplan is great!
(3/13/04 5:37 am)
Re: Day by Day
The Dalek Masterplan 5:
Oh, thank goodness for that, an existing episode. Watching the strories in order really does make you miss the lost episodes a bit more - you get so used to seeing practically everything, and then you get them taken away from you. The couple of episodes missing from Reign and the Crusade (or indeed any incomplete tale watched singly) don't seem nearly as frustrating as when you have thirteen in a row with nothing (DMP 2 excluded of course, but at the moment it might as well not be there...)
Thoughts? Well, Karlton is one of the more interesting features of this episode. Now, as far as I remember, this is his last episode. (Can't locate my tv companion, so I'm not totally sure, but I'm pretty certain this is the case). If so, it's a bit of a shame, and he's clearly a casualty of the Nation/Spooner swapover. It's mainly disappointing because he's given a hell of a lot of weight in this episode, he's set up to go somewhere - and he never does. I am reminded of a mate of mine being in Tartuffe a year or two back (Against old Lon himself, Martin Clunes), playing his servant. His character got built up incredibly in the first two acts. He appeared in act three, said one line, then never surfaced again. Odd. Having said that, I'm not sure I could've taken too much more of the slightly hammy performance, all staring eyes and melodrama.
And I know everyone tends to praise Kevin Stoney in this but... well, I just don't get him. In audio alone he's ok, all rich plummy tones and menace. But there's something awkward about his physicality in this episode. He seems uncomfortable and small, and, sorry, more than a little over the top. It's all played a little too obviously for my tastes - there's a kind of 'look, I'm barking mad me' type quality to the performance that makes me feel that it's all rather artificial and contrived. The whole rolling eyes sequence at the end of the episode, the arms out proclamation in the transporter - it's just doesn't feel natural. OK, Chen has to be mad - but it looks like a man pretending to be mad, rather than just being insane, and that's a vital difference for me.
This episode is the one where your heart does sink a bit. The whole teleport sequence is a terribly contrived device just there to extend the story a bit more, nothing to do with anything else happening, and you can really spot how unfocused the story is. It's just a runaround, and there are uncomfortable memories of the Chase. I know I've said this before, but up until now there had been a clear logic to the journey - yep, even including the excursion to Desperus. The trip to Mira just reeks of 'lets pad the story out'. And whilst the Visians are played as a major feature of the episode, they don't really do anything. (though we do get the wonderfully surrelistic teleport sequence, and the terrific gurning from the cast, Hartnell seemingly trying not to laugh).
The plot doesn't really progress again, but at least we have some Dalek action, even if it's just killing mice. The rest of the episode gets filled with typically atrocious Nation dialogue, all pulp sci-fi crapness. The scenes with Karlton berating the scientists are utter filler - and him and Chen's final scene too - not terribly well written or performed at that. However, the whole thing is impeccably well directed - the silhoutted Chen in the teleporter, the close ups of his fingers, etc. Considering the limitations of the recording process, this is truly breathtaking.
The sequence with Sara being persuaded of Chen's treachery is a bit uncomfortable, most of the Doctor and Steven's story being told off screen. Certainly the revelation that she was Bret's sister is rather soapy, and utterly unneccesary, a desperately cheap device to try and wring some depth out of it. However, it really is just one line, no relevance to anything else and rather than giving depth reveals how shallow and lacking in real heart the script actually is. (Incidentally, meant to say this last time, but do we think the appaling joke 'Come, Kingdom come' from Chen is deliberate. Gawd help us.)
Now having said all that, it sounds like I hate this, but I actually don't. It's just good fun. Yeah, rather cheap and tacky and inane, but it is epic (albeit rather forcibly, artificially epic) and rather enjoyable in its dumbness. Occasionally you need to have an story that is naff but entertaining, you need a mix. You can't just read Dostoyevsky all the time, you need a Stephen King every now and then. And DMP is unashamedly entertaining, that's all it wants to be. It's not clever, but it is big.
(3/15/04 5:12 pm)
Re: Day by Day
The Daleks Masterplan 6:
It's one of the oddities of this story, that considering it is fairly neatly divided in half between a chase through space and a chase through time, and the episodes are likewise equally shared between two writers that the split in author doesn't occur at the same point. Nation leaves just before one story finishes, in order to write the Christmas episode and display all the comedy skills that did such wonders for Tony Hancock. And a far wittier writer has to take the finale of the first half.
Even odder is the fact that you wouldn't know if no-one told you. Considering that Nation and Spooner have tended to appear as different as chalk and cheese up to know, the seque is amazingly imperceptible. The style of the script, it's very nature and rambling pace, characterisation change not one iota.
Sara isn't making much of an impression. She is rude to Steven in a manner that's a little overfamiliarly friendly considering she was trying to kill him an episode ago (and it's also inappropriate from our perspective - as a member of the audience I've grown to like Stevenm and I don't really side with this nasty piece of work bad mouthing him). Her lack of reaction to her own fratricide is unforgivable.
One worry I'm getting with this serial is the reliance on coincidence. Its ok once in a while, even heroes need lucky breaks, but by and large I don't find anything that interesting about Steven, Sara and the Doctor getting out of scrapes through sheer luck. It happened with the teleport, and here with the sudden deus ex machina of the Visians - who remarkably fail to attack the Doctor himself at any point. The Doctor's planning to hijack the Dalek craft and make a fake core are much better, but ultimately only succeed through some really rubbish technobabble involving a force field for Steven.
Beyond that, my review remains roughly the same as the previous episodes. Too long, too padded (there's a ludicrous scene of Chen trying to take the TARDIS crew back to Earth for trial, for the most spurious reasons imaginable. This scene goes nowhere, and only serves to make us think that Chen really ought to think about what the hell he's doing (surely the moment the Daleks get the Tarranium they're going to invade - how much investigation of three supposed traitor's deaths will fit into the remaining time? And the final scene in the TARDIS belabours its basic point - that the force field can't work twice - until you know Spooner's just marking time til the credits. There's a wonderfully silly doubling up of the plot - first the Daleks try to remote control the ship. Steven disables this with ease. Then they decide to use magnetic power. It's the same thing, surely? The episodes still don't take the story too much further, but strangely don't seem as empty as the Chase episodes. I find myself pleasantly entertained for 25 minutes. I can't remember how the time was filled, but I don't recall being bored.
(3/16/04 5:19 pm)
Re: Day by Day
The Dalek Masterplan 7:
It seems almost mean spirited to criticise this episode. After all, it isn't exactly aspiring to be anything other than festive silliness. It's not trying to be a great drama or anything.
But I'm going to have to. I think the main problem with the Feast of Steven is exactly that. It doesn't have any ambition. It thinks that all it needs to do is be a bit silly. It's just not trying.
Now, I think, rather more so than any episode I've seen before, this one loses something from not being visual. The second half has to be done this way really. But I'll get to that in a bit. The first half is what I'll deal with first, surprisingly.
There doesn't seem to be any point to the Liverpool police station section. The intention was, iirc, to use the cast of Z Cars, but with this gone it all goes for a Burton. It's a series of events, rather than a story. There aren't really any stakes, so it's hard to care. After six weeks of Dalek action, are we supposed to be bothered by the Doctor pootling around a police station, inexplicably announcing his entire past and making himself look completely barmy? It's pointless, I'm sorry to be a killjoy, but it is.
How come Sara is left to fix the scanner? How the heck does she know what it is? She didn't know what the TARDIS was til about five minutes ago. And how does Steven manage to drop into a seemingly perfect Liverpudlian accent instantly? And to top it all, the whole thing is just filled with weak attempts at humour (the 'I've got a complaint' gag is atrocious, and why in heaven's name are we supposed to be interested in the moving greenhouse?)
The second half - well, as I say, it's pure visuals, so it's really hard to tell. But it seems over-frenetic and messy from what we can hear. A lot of people shout over each other for the most part, each desperate to make their mark in the mess. I quite liked the director Knopf insisting on the correct pronunciation of his name. And Sara's line about the director wanting her to take her clothes off. But that's about it.
Once again Nation is going for the lowest common denominator. It's a script that has no respect for it's audience. There's no real point to the chases apart from to fill up the running time and to be silly. But ultimately silliness without wit is just utterly shallow and, well... stupid.
The whole thing is just an excuse not to try - it's Christmas, everyone'll be drunk, they'll watch any old crap. Sorry, but as far as we can tell, this episode just doesn't cut it as Who. Its 'special' status is no justification for doing a show that is frankly a mess. A Who Christmas special should be roughly the same as the regular show, just festive. Is it possible anybody who liked the wit or danger of the regular show found anything to like in this one?
The added oddity is that it places itself directly in the middle of DMP. There's a brief reminder of where they are in the plot halfway through, but it just goes to remind us of how weak this episode is. And a shame that Sara's being treated like a full crewmember despite the fact that we haven't really warmed to her yet. Certainly I find it odd that she's perfectly upbeat and champagne quaffing despite the fact that she murdered her brother less than a day ago. The Hartnell speech to camera that ends the episode is rather nice though. But apart from that, a very poor lazy episode of insulting the audience.
Ironic, that this terribly weak episode manages to deliver one of the greatest lines of all time - 'I am a citizen of the universe and a gentleman to boot'. Admittedly, it sounds more than a little weird in the context, but it does show that every silver lining has a cloud.
(3/17/04 2:57 pm)
Re: Day by Day
The Dalek Masterplan 8:
You know, in all the rush to talk about part 7 being the Christmas special, everyone tends to forget that New Year falls one week later. Therefore, this episode is equally just as much of a special.
And really, it shows how it should be done. Whereas it's unlikely that the messy last episode, that failed to seem to be like Doctor Who in any way, would have satisfied the shows fans, this is like a regular episode. With a few festive touches thrown in.
Most clearly we have the cricket sequence, which I loved. I laughed out loud on the tube listening to this (Day by daying on the tube was a novelty for me today, very exciting). The beautiful unfazed air of boredom that sort of sums up cricket is hilarious, all the more for being surrounded by the tension of the chase and the Daleks testing their time destructor. I loved this bit so much I forced my mum to listen to it. It's barking mad. Got nothing to do with rest of the story, but it is at least funny. Likewise the 'it came from Uranus' line, which I'm childish enough to have found amusing - though I'd guess Spooner would have had to have done that deliberately.
The Daleks are back in force, of course. They're going a bit mental, exterminating their second delegate for no really good reason (why involve him if he's that dispensible?). And simultaneously, they completely fail to exterminate Chen, who is proving himself to be nothing like the supervillain of legend and more - well a bit @#%$ really. He cocks everything up, and then gets all cross. It's strongly implied in the earlier episodes that Karlton was the power behind the throne, and it makes sense. This villain is such an utter moron it's hard to tell how he became guardian of the solar system, or why he's so well-regarded by fans.
Contrast with the Monk, who returns and is still hugely entertaining to have around. The scene where he shouts to Hartnell is beautiful and full of banter. It's got the playful mock politeness of the Cecily/Gwendolen scene from the Importance of Being Ernest. His return gives a much needed engine to the storyline, so we really get the impression it's going somewhere, heightening the stakes by bringing in a second recurring villain, and that's a factor that's been missing for several episodes. Still the scope broadens. It's trying it's best to justify its epic length, and it's almost succeeding.
The whole business with the lock and the ring is rubbish, rather sadly. It lets down a rather fun, varied episode to throw in such utter gobbledegook, deeply unsatisfying. But it does manage to give the Doctor some nice floundering (Hartnell is on form in this episode, but once again Steven and Sara especially are on the sidelines - does that girl have any lines or discernable personality?)
It's a little slight, this episode, without progressing the story too far, but it's main function is about setting up the next few episodes, raising the stakes. It's a set up episode, with the central dilemma being essentially pointless, merely there to introduce the new direction and purpose. There's so much promise contained in this episode - the Daleks coming back in force after a couple of episodes away, and seeing how they interact with the Monk. It's all about moving on to the new phase, renewing my flagging enthusiasm, indicating that it's gone up a notch and we're not just going to be watching the same episode over and again or a rerun of the Chase. I for one am quite excited.
(3/18/04 5:59 am)
Re: Day by Day
The Dalek Masterplan 9:
If we ignore Hartnell's strangely strangulated voice at the start and end of this episode (they really didn't retake did they), there's not a vast amount here.
Once more the Daleks let Chen lead them despite his staggering ineptitude and incompetence up to this point. What exactly do they need him there for - just someone to carry the box for them. For all the story's desperation to prove that he's the biggest villain going he remains a mildly rubbish subordinate with delusions of grandeur. He hardly affects the plot in any way, he never really does anything. The only real contribution he makes in this episode is to stop the Monk getting exterminated, but this plan is nowhere near as cunning as it might seem (why doesn't the Monk just leg it? Why do they need someone else to get the core for them, that's hardly proved that successful so far. I suppose you could argue that they don't want to destroy the Tarranium by exterminating the Doctor - but shouldn't they have already planned for that, as opposed to having to ask for the help of some random bloke of dubious trustworthyness who they've never met before?)
Sara at last gets something to do, even if it is a walking Avengers girl impersonation/ripoff and it only lasts a minute or so. Steven is less well served, doing nothing memorable in this episode, mainly because Spooner really enjoys the Doctor/Monk, Monk/Dalek interaction and can't be bothered with them.
And fair enough. The Monk has added a much needed boost to this story. It was running out of steam and it needed a new twist to stop us getting bored out of our minds. Unfortunately, there is a slight degree to which this episode becomes 'Monk Who' rather than Dr Who, as he is clearly the focus of the majority of the episode, more so than the Doctor. The Monk is our comic hero, being outfoxed by Hartnell (think of the Road Runner cartoons with the Monk as Wile E. Coyote and you've got the rough dynamics of the episode. They're always called the Road Runner cartoons, but the Coyote is the star). When the Monk finds himself in deeper waters than he expected it adds a twist to the character. He's a fun villain, mainly cos we sort of like him. We don't want him to win as he's basically immoral, and the Doctors the hero, but we don't want him dead either.
The idea of a team up between the Monk and the Daleks is interesting, more so than those fanwanky meetings of Daleks with Cybermen, etc. They would essentially be a meeting of the vastly similar. Whereas the combination here of different attitudes is more exciting - it enlivens both characters, giving them something to play off. And of course, the moment the Monk turns up, Chen becomes redundant once more. Sorry, Chen fans but he is rubbish. He really is.
The Doctor/Monk stuff is roughly the same as it was in the Time Meddler, faux friendliness and distrust. I love the Monk, he's so shifty and cowardly. A marked contrast to the Doctor, who seems to regard him as a pest rather than an actual enemy. Deeply deeply fun.
Shame that this is all dressing on a fairly drab and uninspiring central plot that, frankly, might as well not be there, but fun is fun, and that's all the matters.
The Dalek Masterplan 10:
Sorry to go on and on about how rubbish Chen is, but just watch him in this episode. It's a physically awkward performance from Stoney. The voice is great, commanding and domineering, but he finds it difficult to translate it into the way he moves. Watch him putting his hands on his hips. Watch him leave the room after knocking away the Dalek eyestick. He's clearly uncomfortable, the physicality fails to seem natural. He's trying to move like a supervillain, but he can't quite figure out what that is and as a result his movements seem forced and artificial.
And the character, in this episode, is still just a spare wheel to the Daleks. He hangs around with them, does everything they do without really adding to the mix. Why is he so fondly regarded? Doesn't even bother to check it's the right Tarranium Core...
Apart from that, how's the episode. Not bad actually. I'm pleased that the Doctor gives the core back in this episode as I'm beginning to get a little tired of the rambling. It's been fun, but it was getting to the point where it seriously needed to look like it was going somewhere. There's only so much goodwill you can have.
The Monk's machinations take up the first half of the episode - it's ages before Hartnell appears, looking incredibly cool strolling around in his big hat. Admittedly, it's not quite clear why he's looking cool and strolling when he knows the Daleks are around, really he should be desperately looking for Steven and Sara, but he doesn't seem that fussed. But I'm getting distracted - the Monk. He's still good fun, and is again the centre of the episode, as Spooner is clearly more interested in his attempts to double cross everyone than the same Dr vs Daleks plot as we've had for eight episodes. And fair enough. It kept me entertained, and without him or something demonstrably different in style from the first six episodes or the Chase, I doubt I'd have found myself able to cope. Spooner knows his stuff, and realised he had to throw something new in to stop it flagging. My only slight disappointment is that he doesn't balance the elements effectively, and this episode doesn't really weight the Dalek/Dr conflict heavily enough - a shame seeing as it has the climactic handing over of the time destructor. The Doctor really only does scoot around in the background until his final scene outside the TARDIS. Show any non-fan this episode and they'd be surprised to realise he's the main character. Steven gets more to do (he's a character I'm really warming too. He is a little forgotten in this script, but his ballsy brash edge, his impetuosity is nice, and a distinct contrast to the dignified reserve of Ian). Sara gets all giggly at the end, and she really just feels like no-one's really decided what her personality is meant to be.
Why does the Doctor alter the Monks TARDIS to a police box? It seems to all attempts and purposes suggest it's an intentional distraction, but it doesn't really impact on the plot at all. And here we have one of my personal pet peeves about the entire series. I've said it before so many times I'm blue in the face, but I feel honour bound to say it again.
The Monk is not trapped on an ice planet at the end.
I don't care what No Future says, or any of the countless inept fact books that suggest it, he isn't. He lands on an ice planet, but he is not stranded there. The Doctor has taken his directional unit, not incapacitated the whole machine. He says he is now 'condemned to travel the universe as aimless as [the Doctor]'. So not trapped. I can understand why the mistake happened - faulty memories and interpretations, no videos/novelisations/cds for years. But lets lay it to rest now shall we? He's not trapped.
The Egyptian subplot is perfunctory, and ultimately meaningless (it seems like a forced attempt to include a bit of action - but does at one point just make the Daleks look a bit ridiculous as one is trapped by the body of a bloke he's exterminated). Slightly filling in time, and you sort of wish they hadn't bothered. It really adds nothing, I'd've prefered the confrontation to perhaps be on an unihabited planet so we can concentrate on the three groups we're interested, rather than some rather pointless extras.
The direction is lovely, though. A blend from sun to Dalek dome leaps out as being unusual and daring for the show, the cliffhanger is startlingly abrupt and Hartnell's entrance is beautifully done.
An enjoyable enough episode, slightly treading water, but it seems to be going somewhere now, so I'm looking forward to the finale.
(3/20/04 4:19 am)
Re: Day by Day
Obviously, we're all a little distracted today. I couldn't concentrate on my book going to bed last night. A new Doctor confirmed. Cool.
Back to business as usual...
The Dalek Masterplan 11:
A real mix of an episode this one. There's some nicely intriguing mystery... but some really appaling padding. This starts when Sara demands to be shown how the impulse compass works and the entire story grinds to a halt. We really should be moving into the endgame now, not fannying around with fripperies. Maybe it's got to do with the vanishing Doctor - it's hard to tell, but this seems a little last minute in the script as it stands. Maybe Hartnell had to have a rest, and these were hurried in to fill in for lost scenes. I do wish he was in this episode more, regardless. He's a more engaging figure than anyone else and it does feel slightly weird not having him around.
Padding aside there's plenty of nice stuff here. The betrayal of Chen, as anyone who's been reading these will guess, is hugely satisfying. A man with ideas far above his competence, it's great to see the Daleks finally stuff him up royally. His wonderful arrogance when he can't tell what's clearly happened and has to come up with an explanation that still has him at the centre almost makes up for his sheer rubbishness in the preceding ten episodes.
Slightly disappointed that the Daleks just lock them all up. Seeing as they've been especially ruthless and psychotic in this story, disposing of other delegates on a whim, the lack of a force gliding in to exterminate is rather a shame.
Sara and Steven discovering slowly how deserted the planet is is rather effective too. Having gone from the somewhat action packed previous episodes, the constant sense that things are happening, the sudden drop in pace is disconcerting and unsettling. A quiet episode where everyone seems to vanish is a little bizarre, and the exact opposite of what we'd expect. Considering everything so far has been so grand and epic in scale, and we're clearly reaching the climax, you don't really think they're going to do something this low key. It's not a complaint, it's defying the expectations. This story does throw everything into the mix. Admittedly, it's probably just through trying to eke another episode out of the thin premise, but it's intriguing.
Shame that Chen's 'death' is so perfunctory that you know full well he's faked it somehow. Admittedly, they only try and bluff you for a minute or two, rather than hinge the entire plot on it, so it doesn't work as badly as all that.
The story still doesn't seem to have gone a vast distance by the end of the episode, but it does keep you interested. Whilst the length is its biggest drawback, it's also its biggest strength. It may be padded beyond belief, but the sheer scale and the conviction of the central performances means that everything does seem to matter more. It's what I've said about epics before - it has to have a cost. It can't be easy. Just visualise a version of this cut to six episodes - 1,2,4, 6,11,12 could just about tell all you need to know about the story. But it wouldn't seem to have had much point. The effort on the part of the travellers, the time it all takes, no matter how artificially, make it seem important. The journey is always the most important part in epics. Never in the actual amount of story, it's all in the detail. And DMP has detail in spades.
(3/21/04 3:19 pm)
Re: Day by Day
The Daleks' Masterplan 12:
It was right at the start of listening to this episode that I suddenly heard the title and though 'Daleks'?' Not Dalek without apostrophe?
Whoops. That's me getting it wrong for eleven episodes. I'm arrogant enough to think it sounds better my way, and it's not like the titles are displayed on screen so it's obvious or anything...
So here we are. Slightly exhausted by the whole thing, frankly. It's a weird little story - quite clearly more than the sum of its parts. Everything should suggest it's utter pants. A rambling plot that takes far too long to get anywhere; a hammy villain with an ego too big to realise he doesn't do a single thing for ten episodes; a make it up as you go along feel to the mix; everything but the kitchen sink chucked in to keep it going; meaningless interludes of rubbish comedy; female companions who are either a) too quiet and shy to make any impression at all or b) Utterly lacking in characterisation. Etcetera etcetera. I could go on.
But it just works.
I really don't know why. I suppose it's the same reasons I've been banging on about for ages - the scale, the conviction of the performances, the grim sense that this all has a cost, that sort of thing. You come out the end having had quite a rollercoaster ride. The poor structure seems to work well too - this is a story that can take you anywhere at a moments notice, that can kill off practically anyone, a story where you never know what's going to happen next. Sure, it does that because you're pretty sure that the writers didn't know what was going to happen next, but it does work out rather serendipitously. It's epic and spectacular through desperation, but that's epic and spectacular nonetheless.
As for this episode proper... Well, get the gripes out of the way. There's never any explanation of why the Doctor just vanished, and it is ultimately pointless in plot terms. If he'd hung around with Sara and Steven everything would have happened exactly the same. But, really, that's just about it.
It's a terrific episode - after the wide ranging eleven previously, the focus narrows and tightens to just Chen, the regulars and the Daleks. In deed, Chen doesn't really do much, just turning up to get his just deserts. His insane arrogance , shouting down the Daleks makes me forgive his sheer rubbishness in the rest of the story. OK, he doesn't do anything, but in terms of great exits for a villain, and the fact he is now clearly totally insane, this is a surprisingly nice topper. There's something about arrogance brought down that brings a grin to your face - that's why it was fun watching the cheating Major from Who Wants to be a Millionaire get caught, and it's the same here. You want Chen to die not so much for his his betrayal but for his sheer gaul in thinking that he rules the Daleks. Absolute power corrupting absolutely, sort of, but more a man believing his own press. His shout that he is invincible sums up the character. It's a bit of a shame he couldn't have been this much fun in the first few episodes, but then he'd have been killed ages ago in that case.
When you actually analyse it, nothing much happens in this episode either - Chen is dead and the time destructor activated within ten minutes. Beyond that there isn't anywhere for it to go, just a race for the conclusion. It really does feel desperate - the Doctor and co. have no one to help, it's just the three of them, unarmed against an entire army of Daleks. The slapdash nature of the Doctors solution is part and parcel of this... he doesn't have the time to plan more thoroughly, it's very much on a wing and a prayer. And again, this is indicative of the Doctor who feels he has to defeat the Daleks rather than just doing that as a byproduct of keeping alive. He risks his own life to try and save everyone else, and I don't think he's really done that before.
The ominous sounds contribute to the doom laden grim atmosphere, and the power of the time destructor starts to destroy. OK, it ain't entirely clear how the Daleks planned to use this in the conquest of the universe, but that seems a minor point. Again it's all about cost, and the weight that confers - an entire world is stripped of life. The Daleks are destroyed in pain. It's huge stuff. You really do sense why this Core was considered so important, and why all those weeks revolved around it. Sheer macguffin, but a powerful macguffin.
Sara's death is genuinely sad. As I've said, it's hard to warm to her particularly as she seems totally generic. But that doesn't make her death any less sad. She's a goodie and she dies essentially pointlessly, which adds to the tragic serious tone of the whole thing. The final scene with the lament for her, Katarina and Bret is wonderful. It's all about taking the subject seriously. Too often death is meaningless in Doctor Who. But by giving it repercussions the whole thing is given some depth and reality. The whole story has a dark and unflinching air in conclusion that is quite startling and unlike the show.
I occassionally glance at the DWM time team reviews of the episodes (and sometimes get cross that they echo my thoughts, so it looks like I've just copied them). Here there's a comment that they really want this episode back. Personally I'm not sure I'd want to risk the disappointment. The oppresive, terrfying air of this on audio, the huge build up of tension as we hear the world being ripped apart and the time destructors relentless pulse - I don't know how well it would work in the traditional dodgy studio background and confinement. Considering how good this episode sounds, I don't know if I'd want to risk that. I'm pretty sure it's better in the imagination, and whilst I'm not happy it doesn't exist, what we've got is still damn fine.